Monday, January 18, 2016

California Appellate Clourt Upholds Leider vs. Lewis

On January 14, 2016, the California Court of Appeals, Second Appellate District, upheld the trial court’s 2012 ruling in Leider v. Lewis. Basically, the appellate judges agreed that the Elephants of Asia Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo may remain open, however, the injunctions requiring the zoo to exercise the elephants at least 2 hours per day, rototill the soil of the exhibit on a regular basis, and cease all us of bull hooks and electric shock for discipline purposes remain in effect. Justice Rubin stated: “We agree that the exhibit places the elephants in an unnatural environment that is perhaps only an echo of their life in the wild. Setting aside the dangers posed by ivory poachers, we have no doubt the elephants would do better if they were not captive. We also recognize that animal sanctuaries might well provide a better form of captivity, and that a better zoo exhibit might be constructed.”
Most important, since the Appellate Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, the following findings of fact in the lower court’s Statement of Decision are part of the public record and are a severe indictment of the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo. These facts, and the court’s conclusions based on the evidence presented at trial, include the following:
1.      “All is not well at the Elephants of Asia exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo. Contrary to what the zoo’s representatives may have told the Los Angeles City Council in order to get construction of the $42 million exhibit approved and funded, the elephants are not healthy, happy, and thriving.” (p. 9)
2.      “There is no real dispute that the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo is not as sufficiently large as an elephant sanctuary or the wild . . .” (p. 10)
3.      The court found that the substrate of the exhibit is hard, not varied and soft, and it creates a risk of injury to the elephants’ joints, feet, and nails. Moreover, the bottom of all the water pools is concrete.  (p. 11)
4.      “The undisputed evidence, high school physics, and common sense, show that a six ton animals repeatedly walking over the same surface will compact the ground.” (p. 14)
5.      “The problem is compounded by the fact that the available surface area for the elephants is much smaller than the total exhibit space because significant portions of the exhibit are closed to the elephants, either for certain periods of time, by gates used to keep Bily [sic] separate from Tina and Jewell [sic], or permanently, by electrically charged or ‘hot’ wires that keep the elephants away from areas of trees, brush, and grass within the exhibit.” (p. 15).
6.      Zoo staff confirmed that electric wires, used to shock the elephants if they come too close, are all over the exhibit, and they are used to protect the trees, plants, and grasses from the elephants. There are no areas of grass in the exhibit that are not electrified, and the ramps leading in and out of the pools are also lined with electric wires. (p. 15). The court stated: “The Los Angeles Zoo elephant management system tempts the elephants with trees that elephants naturally use to rub against and knock down, but frustrates the elephants by keeping those tress in visual and sensory range but beyond access behind electrically charged wires.” (p. 16).
7.      Due to the small space of enclosure, there is a high rate of contamination from urine and fecal matter which can cause foot infections. (p. 16)
8.      “The evidence also shows that the quality of the elephant’s lives in the Los Angeles Zoo elephant exhibit is not good, and that this is having serious repercussions for their physical and emotional well-being.” (p. 17). The elephants exhibit stereotypic behavior (rocking, bobbing, swaying), and this also causes more stress on joints and feet. (p. 17). Testimony of Dr. Joyce Poole, pp. 17-19.
9.      Billy is head-bobbing, swaying, and rocking for about 45% of the time that he is observed (he is not observed in the barn at night). (p. 22)
10.  Foot Care for Elephants, testimony of Dr. Oosterhuis, pp. 24 – 27.
11.  Billy is required to lay down and stand on his hind legs during training demonstrations for the public. (p. 28) Billy was trained by staff at the Los Angeles Zoo to lay down using block and tackle when he was young. Trainers for the Los Angeles Zoo also used a bull hook in the past. (pp. 36-37)
12.  “It is undisputed that Bily [sic] lives and has lived for many years in isolation, separated at all times from other elephants, limited to hearing and smelling Tina and Jewel from afar, occasionally able to rub trunks with them through (presumably non-electrified) fencing.” (pp. 28-29)
13.  The elephants’ choices are extremely limited: keeper’s control the gates and when they will be moved between enclosures, they can go in the water, but only if they walk on cement, and anything Billy chooses to do, he must do alone. (p. 29)
14.  Court’s conclusion: “Thus, the Elephants of Asia exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo is not a happy place for elephants, nor is it for members of the public who go to the zoo and recognize that the elephants are neither thriving, happy, nor content. Captivity is a terrible existence for any intelligent, self-aware species, which the undisputed evidence shows elephants are.  To believe otherwise, as some high-ranking zoo employees appear to believe, is delusional. And the quality of life that Bily [sic], Tina, and Jewel endure in their captivity is particularly poor.” (p. 30)
15.  In addition, the Court stated: “The evidence at trial shows that life at the Los Angeles Zoo for Bily [sic], Tina, and Jewell [sic] is empty, purposeless, boring, and occasionally painful. Their lives are supervised, managed, and controlled by zoo employees who appear to be in the dark about normal and abnormal behavior of elephants, in denial about the physical and emotional difficulties of the elephants they manage and whose lives they control and under the misconception that the elephants prefer to live their lives in an exhibit with human companions rather than with other elephants.” (p. 45-46)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles

Through facebook, I have joined forces with an incredible woman, Marcy Winograd. She is also a public school teacher in Los Angeles, cares passionately about animal issues, and has valuable experience with the political process. We have formed a lobbying group: Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles ( Our objective is to close down the Elephants of Asia exhibit, release Billy, Tina, and Jewel to sanctuary, and stop the captive elephant breeding program in Los Angeles through the political process. Our first meeting is Saturday, January 16 at 11:00 am. We have our meeting posted online:

Following is a sample letter to Los Angeles City Council Members:

January 10, 2016

Dear Councilmember ____________, Los Angeles City Council, _________ District:

I hope I can count on you to join us – Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles -- to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, namely the three captive elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo. Please endorse the attached Resolution to End Captive Elephant Breeding Program at the Los Angeles Zoo and Transfer its Captive Elephants to a Sanctuary. This is an issue that will not go away, and Los Angeles has the incredible opportunity to take a leadership role in the Sanctuary Movement that is gaining momentum around the world. 

My name is Kiersten Cluster, and I am a resident, taxpayer, and public special education teacher in the City of Los Angeles. I started a petition on asking the Los Angeles Zoo to close the Elephants of Asia Exhibit and release the elephants to sanctuary. Already over 4,500 people have signed. 

My fellow public school teacher, Marcy Winograd, and I have started a lobbying group, Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles. Our objectives are to close down the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo, end the captive elephant breeding program, and free the elephants held captive under circumstances contrary to science, ethics, and common human decency. 

The Los Angeles Zoo would like for the public to believe that its redesigned Elephants of Asia Exhibit, opened in 2010, meets the needs of its current inhabitants. However, while the environment may look pretty to human visitors, the scene quickly deteriorates when viewed from the perspective of the captive elephants.

On one side of the enclosure are two female Asian elephants, Tina and Jewel, both former victims of the circus industry in their early fifties.  On the other side, separated from Tina and Jewel, is Billy, a lone, male Asian elephant. Billy was born in 1985 to a wild elephant herd in Malaysia, and was acquired by the Los Angeles Zoo in 1989, where he has since lived in isolation. He occupies one lonely acre of space where he spends most of his time in a corner, swaying and bobbing his head for hours on end, surrounded by metal bars and the constant clicking of electric wires. In light of the current, prolific research on elephants, the Elephants of Asia Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo does not provide an appropriate environment to meet the most basic needs for space, exercise, socialization, and cognitive stimulation required by its residents.

The lack of living space creates terrible physical and mental stress. As the largest land animal on Earth, elephants require vast, open spaces. It is one of the most important requirements for the physical and psychological well-being of elephants. In the wild, Billy, Tina, and Jewel would cover hundreds, perhaps thousands of acres, and naturally engage in foraging, dusting, mud wallowing, swimming, resting, and socializing with other elephants. Within the constricted zoo exhibit, they live a monotonous and lonely existence without any choices. In fact, they are still forced to perform “tricks” for the crowd at daily “training demonstrations”.

Frankly, as a teacher, I do not believe that children can learn anything useful about wild animals when they are viewed in a captive situation. Although seeing animals in a zoo may delight children, it is basing something that is wonderful on something that is a horror. It teaches children to be indifferent to the suffering of others, that it is “okay” morally to benefit at the cost of someone's terror, loss, and destruction. Children have a natural interest in and affinity for animals. However, they learn from the adult models around them. If the adults in their life display apathetic, uncaring attitudes towards animals, or even outright violence, that is what our children will learn. On the other hand, if we are able to shift our thinking and model respect for all living things, children will follow our example.

Finally, there is no possible gain from a captive elephant breeding program. Forced mating of animals does not help animals in the wild. Instead, it increases zoo profits by luring the public to see baby animals. A better use of our resources would be finding ways to protect wild animals in their home environments where they can live and raise families in a natural, dignified manner. Both male and female elephants are highly infertile in zoos (along with high infant mortality and infanticide, the latter unheard of in the wild), which is not surprising given the terrible stress and devastating conditions they must endure on a daily basis. In fact, despite their efforts to stimulate Billy, the zoo has been unsuccessful in collecting any semen samples from him in order to artificially inseminate a female at another zoo. Even if captive breeding is successful, it produces physically and psychologically unhealthy elephants destined for a life of captivity and exploitation.

There is no justification for the captivity of this highly complex, intelligent, and social species, especially since research shows that elephants experience the same psychological reactions to captivity and isolation as humans.  How long will we stand by and allow Billy, Tina, and Jewel to be exploited for entertainment and profit? They have spent their lives in the service of humans. It is time to say enough. 

If you have any questions, or need further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at: and/or 310-560-1868. Thank you for your consideration and civic leadership. I look forward to hearing from you on this matter. 

Kiersten Cluster

 “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated …” – Mahatma Ghandi

Following is the resolution for the Democratic Party of Los Angeles, written by Marcy Winograd:

Resolution to End Captive Elephant Breeding Program at the Los Angeles Zoo and Transfer its Captive Elephants to a Sanctuary.

WHEREAS, many zoos in the United States and Europe have closed their elephant exhibits, citing lack of space, inadequate social groupings, chronic health problems, anxiety and agitation, and premature death suffered by captive zoo elephants, while acknowledging the Scientific American Board of Editors’ conclusion that keeping elephants – intelligent and emotionally complex animals– confined in zoos is wrong and must stop …

WHEREAS, elephants in the wild typically roam 50 miles each day, even when food is abundant, and depend on vast amounts of space to maintain their physical wellbeing and strong social bonds with extended family networks, but at the Los Angeles Zoo, three elephants – Billy, Tina, and Jewel – are confined to only a few acres while Billy, the male elephant, continues to live over a quarter of a century in virtual isolation …

WHEREAS, captive elephant breeding programs are largely unsuccessful, resulting in a high mortality rate for baby elephants while further disrupting elephant family bonds with the removal of mothers or babies from their herd, and while advancing a false narrative that such programs ensure the survival of elephants in their natural habitat …

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City of Los Angeles will end its captive elephant breeding program, transfer Billy, Tina, and Jewel, at the earliest possible opportunity, to an appropriate sanctuary with at least 1,000 acres, while closing the LA Zoo’s elephant exhibit forever, and …

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED the Los Angeles Democratic Party shall distribute copies of this resolution to each member of the Los Angeles City Council, the Mayor of Los Angeles, the Director of the Los Angeles Zoo, each member of the Los Angeles Zoo Commission and each supervisor on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Written by Marcy Winograd, member, West LA Democratic Club 


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Update on Billy

On Friday, January 8, Marcy and I visited the elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo. We were able to see Tina and Jewel on the side of the exhibit where I  have only seen Billy on my past visits. As always, Billy was separated from the females on the other side of the exhibit. Apparently, during the course of the day, they are moved around to the different parts of the enclosure. Billy was engaged in his exercise regime, going back and forth across the exhibit to staff members behind fences offering treats. He seemed a little bit more lively then the last time I saw him. I think this may be due to the fact that he appeared to be in musth -  he had dark stains on his temporal lobes, and dark stains on the inside of his hind legs, I think from dribbling urine.

Billy is an absolutely beautiful elephant in the prime of his life, wasting away in captivity.

Meeting with John Lewis, Director of the Los Angeles Zoo

On Friday afternoon, January 8, 2015, Marcy Winograd and I met with John Lewis, the director of the Los Angeles Zoo, in his office on zoo property. Following is a summary of the zoo's position with respect to elephant captivity related issues.

First, of course, we have a basic, philosophical disagreement with Mr. Lewis regarding the concept of holding wild animals in captivity. The zoo's basic position is that as long as the animals are well-cared for, there is absolutely nothing wrong with captivity, and there are some benefits. Mr. Lewis compared the care that the elephants in his zoo receive to the care a cat or dog receives in a loving, family home.

Billy's rocking and head bobbing behavior:
Mr. Lewis stated that this behavior is not pathological and it just something that Billy does. He has exhibited this behavior since he was an infant. The zoo had a PhD researcher study Billy and his/her conclusion was that the behavior is not pathological because it stops when a keeper calls to Billy. He engages in the rocking and bobbing when he is anticipating something, such as the arrival of his keepers and/or food. They are trying to feed him on a random schedule to reduce the behavior.

They were exercising the elephants before the lawsuit and will continue to do so even if the ruling is overturned (more on the lawsuit below). For their health, the elephants need a routine to keep them moving. However, they do not have to do anything they do not want to do. Mr. Lewis claims that they cannot force an adult, bull elephant to do anything.

Rotilling the Soil
They were not rototilling the soil in the exhibit prior to the ruling from the trial court because they did not think it was necessary. They are now rototilling once a month and will continue to do so even if the ruling is overturned.

Elephants do not need large spaces to roam when they have everything they need. Elephants only cover large spaces when they are in search of resources and mates.

Billy is not alone. He has Tina and Jewel and he interacts with one of them regularly through the fence. According to Mr. Lewis, the other female does not like him and chooses not to interact. With the female that likes him, Billy talks to her and can touch her through the fence.

They are searching for a breeding partner for Billy and trying to collect his semen. The goal is to increase the North American herd of elephants (in other words the elephants held in North American zoos). According to Mr. Lewis, there are very few captive breeding partners for Billy. Females over the age of 30 are too old to breed in captivity and there are very few younger females available. They have been stimulating Billy for about one year, but, to date, he has not ejaculated so they have not been able to collect his semen to artificially inseminate a female at another zoo. Many  zoos around the country are expanding their exhibits (Mr. Lewis rattled off a list), like Los Angeles, to hold social groups of elephants so they need to breed more captive elephants. Zoos are also interested in obtaining the Ring-A-Ling elephants.

Past management of elephants in zoos:
John admitted that many mistakes were made int he past with respect to the care of elephants in zoos (concrete enclosures, chaining for long periods of time), but in his opinion all of this was done with the best of intentions. They have learned a lot about how to care for elephants and are providing the best care possible.

The reason the City appealed the trial court's ruling is due to the standing issue. They claim the trial judge exceeded his authority and the plaintiff did not have standing to bring the suit in the first place. They do not want precedent allowing tax payers to enforce criminal laws in civil court. Mr. Lewis claims that regardless of the appellate ruling, they will continue to exercise the elephants and rototill the soil, and they discontinued the use of bull hooks a long time ago.

Valuable information gained from keeping elephants in captivity:
Mr. Lewis believes that they are gaining valuable information regarding the care and management of elephants in captivity that will help elephants in the wild. Since the natural habitat for elephants is disappearing, the wild herds need to be managed in a similar way to elephants in zoos, and zoos are able to provide information and experience.

Billy is being trained to stand on his hind legs in order to mount a female.
Mr. Lewis was unaware that Tina and Jewel are forced to perform a curtsy at the end of the training demonstrations. He took a note and thanked me for the feedback. He stated that only natural behaviors and care taking routines should be exhibited at the demonstrations.

Mr. Lewis told us that there are 5 elephant keepers employed by the zoo, and 4 vets that serve the entire zoo population, including the elephants.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Los Angeles Zoo: Elephants of Asia Exhibit

My first visit to the Elephants of Asia Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo after learning the truth about elephants in captivity was on June 9, 2015. Although I hate giving my money to entities that exploit animals for profit, I wanted to see the elephants for myself. What I saw made me cry.

I arrived at the exhibit in time for the daily "Training Demonstration" at 11:00 am. The two females, Tina and Jewel, were in the "enrichment yard" and were led through some grooming exercises and forced to perform tricks for the crowd by two staff members using protected contact (animal management through a fence). They checked the elephants' feet and mouths, and proceeded to brush the dirt from their backs while explaining that elephants purposefully dust themselves to protect their skin from sunburn (so why remove it??) Then, the elephants were provided "mental stimulation" which consisted of being told to pick up sticks, place them in a different place, and move a tire around. At the end of the pathetic demonstration, the elephants were commanded to take a bow - which looked very much like a circus trick. As soon as the session was over, Tina and Jewel left the yard as quickly as they could to the relative privacy at the far back of the exhibit. During my observation, they showed no interest in the "toys" in the enrichment yard and no affection for the staff members.

I spoke with one of the "education specialists" (a young female staff member) that was circulating among the visitors to answer questions about the elephants. She informed me that Tina and Jewel are both in their fifties and have been at the zoo for about 5 years. When the new exhibit opened in 2010, Tina and Jewel were brought to the Los Angeles Zoo from the San Diego Zoo. This staff  member claimed that the two females were acquired from a private collection by the San Diego Zoo and they were not captured from the wild. It did not take much time on the internet to learn that Tina and Jewel are victims of the circus industry. Most likely they were both born in the wild, like Billy.

I walked around the entire exhibit and read all of the information. I observed Billy in his lonely corner swaying and bobbing his head. When I asked one of the staff members why he was kept separate from Tina and Jewel, I was told that male elephants are solitary in the wild, so Billy is kept by himself. I was also told that his head bobbing is an "anticipatory behavior". The zoo wants people to believe that Billy is eagerly awaiting his treats (part of the zoo's enforced exercise regime to comply with the court's order to exercise the elephants at least 2 hours per day).

I returned to see Billy on July 21, 2015 and all of the lies I heard on my first visit were repeated. In fact, I observed a group of school children watching Billy, and one of the zoo staff members leading the tour actually said, "Do you see him bobbing his head? That means he is really happy." I was also told that the zoo is actively looking for about three females to bring to the zoo in order to breed Billy (Tina and Jewel are too old). Not only would a breeding program compound the space problem at the zoo, it would also produce more captive, miserable elephants.

Based on my research, the claims made by the staff members of the Los Angeles Zoo could not be further from the truth. First, researchers have proven that male elephants live within complex elephant communities and form lasting bonds with other elephants, male and female. Older males also serve as mentors for young bulls. (See my blog dated 12/31/15). Furthermore, according to Dr. Joyce Poole, based on years of elephant research and her own observations of Billy, his head bobbing behavior means he is stressed, frustrated, bored, and unhappy ( In short, Billy is losing his mind due to the years of solitary confinement.

The Los Angeles Zoo is presenting  propaganda and lies in an attempt to justify the exploitation of these magnificent elephants for entertainment and profit. How long must they suffer? Billy, Tina, and Jewel have spent their lives in forced servitude and it is time to say enough. NO MORE. It is time to release Billy, Tina, and Jewel to Sanctuary. For as long as we stand by and allow this to continue, they will remain three of the many elephants languishing in zoos and circuses "marking time before the public's eyes until death releases them." (Kane, 2009, p. 96).

"The only good cage is an empty cage." - Lawrence Anthony, The Elephant Whisperer